NASA’s Psyche mission prepares to explore golden asteroid worth quadrillions

Psyche spacecraft. Credit: NASA

The countdown is on at Cape Canaveral in Florida, United States, as NASA makes its final preparations for the launch of the highly anticipated Psyche spacecraft to explore the asteroid estimated to be worth about $10 quintillion. 

This celestial body is primarily made of nickel and iron. However, there has also been speculation that it contains other precious metals such as gold, platinum, and copper. 

With fewer than 100 days to go the launch is scheduled for October 5, 2023. The spacecraft will travel approximately 2.5 billion miles (4 billion kilometers) towards the asteroid, nestled within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  

“Our focus has shifted to safely completing the final mechanical closeout of the spacecraft and preparing the team for operations,” said Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager in a statement on July 18, 2023.  

“The team is conducting numerous training activities to ensure that we are prepared and ready. It’s a very busy time, but everyone is very excited and looking forward to the launch,” Stone added.  

Despite its astronomical worth the golden asteroid is not a target for resource extraction but rather scientific exploration. 

The asteroid is one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, with an average diameter of approximately 173 miles (279 kilometers) and is potentially the exposed metallic core of a small planet with layers stripped off due to violent space collisions. 

According to NASA, it is “humanity’s first-ever exploration of a world made largely of metal.” 

Moreover, the Psyche spacecraft could unlock insights into the formation and evolution of solar planets, including the Earth. 

The mission will also trial Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) technology, which encodes data in light particles to communicate between a probe in deep space and the Earth. The DSOC has the potential to transmit a significantly large amount of data back to Earth during a shorter time frame. 

The Psyche launch was initially slated to take place in August 2022, but NASA said it was delayed due to “development problems.” 

If everything goes to plan the spacecraft should reach the asteroid in August 2029 and then spend at least 26 months in orbit to gather data and images. 

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